Defining Media Violence: It's Not so Easy!


This article originally appeared in Issue# 62

Critics of television violence research note that media violence experts measure television violence quite differently. George Gerbner of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication measures most acts of violence equally, whether an accident or intentional. The National Coalition on Television Violence "weighs" violence so a minor act like shoving counts as one-third of an act of violence while murder counts as one and two-thirds an act of violence. Judge for yourself by developing your own definition of media violence and putting it to the test:

  • First, develop your own definition of violence. Keep in mind things like motives (revenge or passion), consequences (death or financial reward), techniques (shoot-outs or fist fights), intentions (to frighten or to kill). Does violence always mean physical harm?

  • Second, as you watch television, count the acts of violence according to your definition. Make sure to note who are the perpetrators and who are the victims. How are these characters different in terms of gender, race and class? Do all the acts of violence fall neatly within your definition?

  • Finally, evaluate your results. What values went into your definition? Are certain types of violence used more often then others? How does the violence change over time and program? What patterns of violence emerge in terms of gender, race and class?